Hello Internet! This is Calista Marsh, writing as an intern at Rincon – Vitova Insectaries.


I discovered Rincon – Vitova Insectaries through an environmental work-study class I was taking at Ventura High School. Being my first official internship, I was a little nervous when I walked in the door. Of course, there was no need;  I was met by the friendly atmosphere that I have come to love about this place. The first thing we did was to go out into the garden and release green lacewings. This was the perfect introduction to the business, as I got to see firsthand the product and the reason for our efforts. I was also introduced to the cats, dogs, and geese living on the property, all of whom I’ve come to enjoy. By the time I left that first day, I could tell I my time here would be well spent.

The weeks that followed were filled with variety, from taking a trip to a horse rescue to building fly parasite release stations for our customers. No day has been exactly like the last, and each brings new knowledge and skills. Many days, I come home afterwards with bags of fruit or seeds or, more recently, a young loquat plant.

It is easy to say that I have enjoyed my time here, and easier still to say I’ve enjoyed the people. If I could imagine the ideal place to work (or in my case, to intern), Rincon – Vitova Insectaries would be a pretty good match. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to spend my time here, and I hope I’ve been helpful these past few weeks.

RVI Comments on Local Climate Action Plan and Agriculture and Water Chapters of the General Plan

January 18, 2018

Supervisor Steve Bennett, District 1

CC Supervisor Linda Parks, District 2; Phil White, Planning Commissioner, District 1; Susan Curtis, General Plan Update Manager

Dear Supervisor Bennett,

Generally our concern is that the current documents for the General Plan Update make insufficient reference to the centrality of and connections to climate change, and specifically to the parallel role of carbon sequestration along with emissions reduction and the requisite related policy to keep rain water on the land to support re-vegetation and carbon sequestration.

Also, in the Agriculture Chapter the resource of farmers and farm workers is missing as well as the myriad and growing linkages between agriculture and the whole community. In this letter we will suggest ideas and improved language in these areas. We have other suggestions and we know there are many more good examples of these features that might be added to the background documents, but these are the most important, are illustrative, and all we have time to get down.

  • Vision statement: CFROG’s language is superior in every way to that approved by the Planning Commission. Aside from your appointee who did his best under the circumstances, we believe the Commission was unreasonable and staff was not very helpful in the discussion about what CFROG proposed on behalf of dozens of organizations. Highlighted in CFROG’s proposed language below is most needed additional wording to make it true to science, state legislation, and the existential threat of climate change:

Vision Statement:  Ventura County is a remarkable place to live, with clean water and air for all residents and visitors. Our exceptional quality of life and economic vibrancy are rooted in regenerative, inclusive, non-toxic stewardship of all aspects of the place we call home. The protection and conservation of our soil, air, water, cultural heritage, natural resources, open spaces, human spirit and creativity are foundations of local policy and governance and together create the framework required for healthy people and a healthy economy.

In the vein of true stewardship, the Ventura County General Plan reflects the county’s ongoing commitment to doing our part within a global society facing the impacts of Climate Change, by continually collaborating with local residents, businesses, agencies, organizations and cities to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and draw down the overall amount of carbon in the atmosphere. 

  • Guiding principle for Climate Action Plan: Include “sequester (or draw down) carbon” as codified by SB 1386.

Climate Change and Resilience Guiding Principle:  Reduce greenhouse gas emissions [insert: and sequester carbon] to achieve all adopted targets, proactively anticipate and mitigate the impacts of climate change, promote employment opportunities in alternative energy and reducing greenhouse gases, and increase resilience to the effects of climate change.

  • The Background Document for the Agriculture Chapter is missing reference to human resources and to community linkages. The Background Documents for the Agriculture and Climate Chapters need to include Ventura County’s exceptional history and achievement with biologically based pest management, carbon sequestration practices, and roles of agricultural and storm water management practices in climate change mitigation.

Section 9.1 Agricultural Resources would be improved by a section about farmers, farm labor, consultants and suppliers. The Farm Bureau of Ventura County (FBVC), reports that the county employs 20,000 farm workers annually. The number of farm workers ranges seasonally from a low of 15,000 to a high of 25,000 during the peak spring and summer harvest of strawberries, lemons and avocados. The average age is 32. 95% were born in Mexico with an average of 53% who speak Spanish only and many speaking only Mixtec. The average duration in the US is 11 years. The average income of those workers is about $22,000 a year while the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $62,200.

House Farm Workers!  was founded in 2004 to influence policy and do public outreach about the need for safe, decent and affordable farm worker housing. Several other organizations have stepped up to improve the conditions of farm workers in the county. The United Farm Workers aims to engage immigrants, works to reform the immigration system, and networks to influence policies and expand services.  A survey of farm workers conducted by Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) conducted a survey in 2015 of farm workers.  7 in 10 farm workers said their working conditions were dangerous or harmful to their health.  42% said they never take time off work for any reason.  Three in 5 farm workers in Ventura County said they’ve experienced at least one form of wage theft. Ventura County formed a Farm Worker Resource Program Advisory Committee in 2017 to set up an office and trained staff to address farm worker issues.

Farmers total ? in the county. The Ventura County Farm Bureau, founded in 1914, represents grower interests, fosters community action, and manages the Ventura County Agricultural Irrigated Lands Group, which was established in 2006 to help growers and agricultural landowners comply with state water quality regulations.

Organic Farming:  On page 9-32 the definition of organic farming is incorrect. Here is the USDA National Organic Program definition that should be used on page 9-32 (here is a description of practices: https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Organic%20Practices%20Factsheet.pdf)

DELETE:  as farming practices that rely on natural fertilizers such as compost, manure, green manure, and bone meal in lieu of chemical pesticides.

INSERT: The USDA organic regulations describe organic agriculture as the application of a set of cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. These include maintaining or enhancing soil and water quality; conserving wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife; and avoiding use of synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering.

The next paragraph can then include among organic practices the use of compost, mulch, cover crops, hedgerows, and diversified borders and interplantings.

Invasive Pests and Diseases on page 9-35 should be renamed Pest and Disease Management to accurately reflect the full scope of highest priority farming practices that prevent pests and disease. We would like to see that section begin by acknowledging the exceptional history and achievement of Ventura County farmers, landscape managers and gardeners with preventive practices that diversify farm ecosystems, build soil and plant resistance to pests and disease and thus proactively avoid use of pesticides.

Biologically Based Pest Management in Ventura County: Ventura County has been the historical home to seven beneficial insect production companies including three grower-owned cooperatives whose members were or are economically successful thanks to their investment in biologically-based pest management services. Least-toxic pest control products are manufactured and sold in the county and sold by many agricultural suppliers. The precautionary principle guides pest management decisions for many growers who do not use high-risk pesticides except as a last resort when there is no alternative to save a crop. There is a legacy and current investment in cutting edge knowledge about alternatives to the use of toxic pesticides. Despite the access to biologically based pest and disease management resources, pest management information from the county’s cooperative extension and Master Gardener Program are provided in a framework of Integrated Pest Management in which toxic pesticides are more commonly recommended than preventive and biologically based solutions.

The UC Cooperative Extension, Center for Regenerative Agriculture (CRA) and the Dietrick Institute for Applied Insect Ecology (DI) are among the institutions that extend those Best Management Practices. Dr Ben Faber at the UC Cooperative Extension has, for example, been promoting the use of mulch in orchards for over twenty years, a practice that conserves water and holds carbon.  David White has led CRA to host four courses in Ojai by the world-reknown soil ecologist Elaine Ingham resulting in approximately 150 graduate soil foodweb practitioners in the region. DI’s recommendations for enhancing beneficial insect habitat using non-crop borders, interplantings and hedgerows remain a common practice seen beautifying farms and attracting and providing food for naturally occurring beneficial insects.

Bill Camarillo of Agromin may provide over 90 percent of the compost and mulch applied on working lands in the county; those quantities should be part of the record. Jamie Whitecomb at the Ventura County Resource Conservation District and Dawn Afman, USDA-NRCS Soil Conservationist are familiar with soil conservation practices, achievements and needs through promotion of the Organic Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Transition to Organics Ojai maps lands that are managed biologically to avoid toxic pesticides and sequester carbon.

The CALANDS model being developed by CARB for tracking statewide goals and targets for carbon sequestration now offers a reliable regional framework. The COMET-Farm Voluntary Carbon Reporting Tool allows farmers/ranchers to estimate carbon values for various management practices in order to apply for California Healthy Soils Initiative payments from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. There is know-how and funding to quantify baseline and changes in carbon and emissions for all land categories by type, ownership and management practices or by degradation due to drought, fire, flood, or agronomic inputs.

Farm and Community Linkages

We strongly recommend that a section on this topic be added, perhaps on Farming Operations on page 9-35 to celebrate the good news story about Ventura agriculture’s growing high-quality interactions with the community at large. This relationship has been fostered for decades through the UC Hansen Trust whose mission is to sustain agriculture in Ventura County through research and education to benefit the community as a whole.

The Students for Eco-Education and Agriculture (SEEAG) founded in 2008 by Mary Maranville has held a Farm Day every fall since 2012 with self-guided tours to 20 unique agri-tourism destinations that can be found in Ventura County to connect people with their agricultural roots.

SEEAG also made a remarkable achievement in 2017 hosting every third grader in Ventura County to Petty Ranch for Farm Lab. The lesson includes “The Journey of our Food”, “The Biology of Healthy Farm Soil”, “Bugs: Pollinators, Pests and Beneficials”, and “The Life Cycle and Science of Plants” and the next class of third graders will enjoy these learning experiences.

SEEAG and other organizations also provide lessons about agriculture for middle and high school students in the S.T.E.M. program. High school students attend the Annual Agriculture Career Fair held at the Museum of Agriculture in Santa Paula that also hosts tours with stations focused on plant growth, farm to table labor dynamics, seasonal produce, beneficial insects, farm practices past and present, water issues, and more. Santa Paula High School is the site of a new school farm as well as a thriving Future Farmers of America program and a new self-funding horticulture therapy training program, Growing Works, is launching in 2018 in Camarillo. There are three Grange programs with youth livestock programs in the county in addition to 4H.

The Ventura Unified School District (VUSD) is the site of one of southern California’s premier Farm to School programs. The program’s goals are to provide local students with healthy lunches and nutrition education and connect schools to local farmers. Ojai’s Food for Thought program is also a collaboration with Farm to School. Many other schools have school gardens, often with small grants from Captain Planet Foundation where lessons are tied to common core curriculum standards and encourage inquiry-based and hands-on experiential learning. Among them are E.P. Foster Elementary, Mound and Sheridan Way Elementary schools in Ventura; Rio Del Norte Elementary School and Tierra Vista Elementary in Oxnard; and San Antonio Elementary School in Ojai.

Finally there are 12 Farmer’s Markets, 14 Community Gardens and the Abundant Table Farm was awarded a multi-year USDA grant to found a Food Hub to improve market access for producers along with their potential for expanding the availability of healthy, fresh food, especially in underserved communities.

3. Water Chapter: 

What appears missing in the Water Chapter is a focus on what happens to rain in the hills above each of the county’s three watersheds. There have been decades of erosion in upland gullies, flooding and denuding the land as stormwater floods into the three main rivers and to the sea. Some hydrologists see the intensified drought, wildfire and floods that are coming with climate change as symptoms of a global pattern of failure to safeguard the ability of the uplands to slow and sink rain water into the ground. Also, in developed areas, impervious pavement is further causing not just with heat island effects but, due to channeling of rain water into storm drains and out to sea, is dehydrating developed lands.

These conditions need to be included in the background document to provide a framework for goal-setting to reverse these trends through small earthworks, such as catchments, swales with diversions, microbasins, and many other measures that capture stormwater to prevent flooding and its contribution to sea level rise, make the streams and rivers stable and fed by underground water movement that best supports fish populations, support a succession of perennial vegetation to restore degraded lands and reduce heat islands while sequestering carbon and through increased evapo-transpiration restoring small cooling water cycles or microclimates. Where rain water flows is closely tied to the Climate Action Plan because you cannot sequester more carbon when the soil does not hold water, nor can you effectively mitigate the conditions for wildfires or flooding when the soil has lost water-holding capacity. It was clearly observed that irrigated land served as a firebreak in the Thomas Fire, except when palms and arundo were present. Even well-watered eucalyptus trees did not burn.

The hydrologists with a new organization called Rain for Climate explain the process of degradation and restoration of small water cycles. The principal hydrologist Michal Kravcik worked with me and wrote the attached proposal last May for how to apply these principles to the Ventura River Watershed Initiative.

Michal Kravcik is now putting his attention on the upper tributaries of the Santa Clara River. We learned from the county hydrologist that the high probability of flooding at the levee at River Park is forecast to be 60% fed by Sespe Creek. Small measures to re-hydrate and vegetate the uplands of Sespe Wilderness Area could remove the need for the proposed $41 million levee repair that engineers said may still not stand up to the big flood predicted even before the fires.

We recommend that the background document for the Water Chapter describe not just the hydrology of the streams, riverbeds and water stored above and below ground, but to put attention on the opportunities coming with the rapidly shifting paradigm about the advantages and methods for keeping rain where it falls, especially in the hills above our towns. The techniques are proven, very inexpensive, capable of being done by volunteers with hand tools, and the benefits go far beyond local storm water management. At risk of troubling wildlife professionals who have had some bad experiences with beaver, we would like it on record that evidence has been found that beaver once inhabited the Sespe wilderness. We have recently been persuaded that reintroduction of beaver in the uplands of the Sespe would bring potential services for flood prevention that far outweigh their annoying, but manageable behaviors.

On page 10-2 are found the general practices associated with land development of vegetation removal and channeling water to the ocean. It states, “Some development can significantly alter land topography. Removal of natural vegetation and manmade structures such as levees, dams, and diversion structures disrupt natural hydrologic processes (i.e. sediment transport and deposition, groundwater recharge). These changes alter water velocity, river substrate, water shading, soil moisture, and other ecosystem characteristics needed by fish and wildlife.” 

What is missing from that list of impacts is flooding, heat island effects and desertification that are drivers of  climate change. These impacts are contributing to global warming and sea level rise. Reversing these negative impacts of development will cool and stabilize microclimates because natural hydrologic processes involving latent heat of evapotranspiration from vegetation are restored and the mulch layer on soil and the root systems receive and hold rain water. The sum of many such mostly small, simple local actions can stabilize the climate over whole continents.

Thanks for the opportunity to share our perspectives.


Jan Dietrick, MPH, President, and Ron Whitehurst, PCA, Co-Owners

Rincon-Vitova Insectaries, Inc, 108 Orchard Dr, Ventura, CA 93001


Senator Boxer Continues to Fight for the Right to Know

United States Senate

Dear Jan:

Thank you for expressing your concerns about the labeling of genetically engineered foods.  Ensuring that Americans are provided critical information about the foods they eat is important, and I appreciate hearing your views.

I have proudly introduced S.809, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act.  This bipartisan legislation would direct the Food and Drug Administration to clearly label genetically engineered (GE) foods, including fish and seafood, as well as food containing GE ingredients so that consumers can make informed choices about what they eat.

My bill has strong support from a broad coalition of consumer groups, businesses, farmers, fishermen, and parents who all agree that consumers deserve more – not less – information about the food they feed their families.

In my continued efforts to establish labeling requirements for GE food, I also offered two amendments to the Senate version of the Farm Bill.  One amendment would have produced a report on GE food labeling, and the other would have expressed a sense of the Senate in support of labeling.  I also supported an amendment that would have reaffirmed a state’s right to require labeling of GE food.  Unfortunately, these proposals were not included in the final Senate Farm Bill.

The Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act has been referred to the Senate Health Committee.  Be assured that I will keep working to see my bill passed by Congress and signed into law.

Again, thank you for writing to me.  Please know that I will continue to fight for a safe and environmentally responsible food supply system that also protects consumers’ right to information.


Barbara Boxer
United States Senator
February 18, 2014



Label GMOs to Avoid Eating Roundup

Roundup will soon make its annual appearance as a mountainous stack of jugs by Home Depot cash registers across the nation, maybe not quite as much in California this spring since without rain there should not be as many weeds. However, spraying with Roundup is a way of life in American cities and farms. It is hard to maintain a sense of alarm about something so familiar.

We are jarred back to awareness about the effects of Roundup on human health and wildlife when we listen to interviews and talks of Don Huber, Professor Emeritus at Purdue University. We were speakers at the ACRES USA 2013 Conference in Springfield, Illinois, last December, where Dr. Huber also spoke. A CD of his main talk Failed Promises, Flawed Science — the Interaction of GMOs & Glyphosate on Soil, Plant, Animal, Human Health  is available. At no charge you can read a 2011 interview of Don Huber by ACRES USA posted by Organic Consumers Association. Other helpful information about health risks of Roundup are found in the reviews by Antoniou, Robinson and Fagan, 2012, and Ho, 2013.

Consumption of Roundup is on the rise because it is a major component of many genetically engineered foods and also in drinking water

The GMO seed/pesticide industry claims that GE crops use less pesticide. This is pretty far-fetched when over 85% of GE crops are engineered to tolerate herbicide (a type of pesticide) in increasing amounts every year to total around 150 million pounds on 100 million acres annually in the US.  We are talking pretty much all of the corn and soy, the sugarbeets and canola, and a lot of the alfalfa hay that is not certified organically grown plus most of your neighbors’ yards, local parks, roadsides and other landscapes. Hence, Roundup in our food and water. Bohn et al (2014) found that the Roundup and AMPA (the toxic breakdown product of Roundup) composition of GMO soybeans in Iowa was mean 3.3 and 5.7 mg/kg, respectively compared to none in the conventional and organic soybeans. California allows 1,000 ppb of glyphosate in drinking water which 1,000 times higher than the amount shown to cause a 500% to 1300% increase in cancer cell growth. The only way to know how much is in your water is to contact your supplier. Apparently it is usually well under the allowed levels, but it does not breakdown like the manufacturers say it does. It remains toxic as it moves into groundwater. The Health Ranger has reported on water and is now doing independent testing of toxic substances in foods that are not being reported by government agencies.

Farmers spray crops with herbicides that the seed is genetically engineered to tolerate so they can save on labor costs of weeding by other means. The weeds develop resistance, so the farmers spray more often at higher rates.  US EPA then increases the amount allowed in food. Last, but not least, the industry is engineering corn and soy to be resistant to not just Roundup, but more dangerous herbicides like 2,4-D. There is one such product under consideration right now. The comment period about what opponents are calling “agent orange corn” has been extended to April 27. Learn more here and weigh in.

Safe as Table Salt

At pest management conferences since the 1980’s there have been Monsanto presenters, including well-polished young professional women, saying how safe the active ingredient glyphosate is to humans and all living things. Daniel, et al, 2009, then showed that the surfactants in the Roundup formulation increase cellular uptake of glyphosate at normal body pH, so biologically based pest management experts like us began challenging Monsanto speakers about true toxicity of the commercial product. It took many years for experts to find out that that the Roundup is 10 to 100 times more toxic than the glyphosate.

Glyphosate binds up trace minerals

One of Don Huber’s research interests was to look at changes in soil microflora caused by glyphosate, especially the micronutrients, such as manganese, iron and zinc. These levels can be 80-90 percent reduced in genetically engineered Roundup Ready plants. The scientific literature builds on Huber’s research that includes tools he helped developed for this type of research leading to evidence of glyphosate’s residual effects on wheat, corn, cotton, soybeans, potatoes, citrus and more. Huber explains, “Glyphosate is the reason we are seeing a reemergence of diseases we thought we had controlled.” Learn more about new diseases in crops sprayed with Roundup on from Don Huber speaking about Managing Nutrition to Control Plant Disease on another CD available from ACRES USA.

Huber explains the activity of glyphosate which is the active ingredient in Roundup and related herbicides. It is a systemic, broad-spectrum herbicide. His description of how it functions is outlined in Sirinathsinghji and Ho, 2013, as follows:

  • Accumulates in plant tissues (shoot and root tips, reproductive structures, and legume nodules)
  • Some glyphosate moves into roots and is released into soil (fast sorption; slow degradation)
  • Released by phosphorus
  • Makes the plant susceptible to diseases

Glyphosate is toxic to microorganisms, plants, animals and humans

Studies show effects on beneficial organisms, such as N-fixing organisms needed for organic soil building and valuable mycorrhizae fungi, biocontrol organisms, earthworms, and other plant growth promoting organisms. This increases the damage done by disease organisms in the soil and explains the appearance of diseases that never appeared until broadscale application of Roundup.  It is also a potent antibiotic against human gut bacteria that are now understood to be vital for human health. It is thought to operate in animals and humans as it does in plants, as a mineral chelator, making mineral nutrients unavailable. There is an increase in over 30 diseases alongside the increased consumption of Roundup and GE proteins in food.

Don Huber also warned about the risks of genetically engineered food crops after discovering a new organism in GE animal feed that has since been linked to infertility and miscarriage in cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, and poultry. The new microbe is linked to “Sudden Death Syndrome” (SDS) in animals.

Many diseases including birth defects that are parallel in amphibians and human cells

The review of health risks from glyphosate  by Antoniou, et al (2011) focuses on the evidence of birth defects. A report by Sirinathsinghji and Ho, 2012, explains the unnatural expression of developmental genes from glyphosate. Between 2000 and 2009 when Roundup Ready GMO soybeans were introduced in Argentina, there was a four-fold increase in cancer and birth defects. The head and face of human fetuses become deformed in the same way as in tadpoles. Chick embryos with glyphosate-based herbicides showed similar defects–loss of head features including the future eyes.

Glyphosate could play some role in bee colony collapse disorder

In an article about GMO foods, there is a hypothesis posed by Dr. Huber about a role of glyphosate in the crisis of dying pollinators. He observes that there are three established characteristics of colony collapse disorder that suggests glyphosate could be (at least in part) responsible:

  • The bees are mineral-deficient, especially in micronutrients
  • There’s plenty of food present but they’re not able to utilize it or to digest it
  • Dead bees are devoid of the Lactobacillus and the Bifidobacterium, which are components of their digestive system

The bees also become disoriented, suggesting endocrine hormone disruption, which is an effect of neonicotinoid insecticides that have been implicated in honeybee die-off.  Dr. Huber cites a study on glyphosate in drinking water at levels that are commonly found in US water systems, showing a 30 percent mortality in bees exposed to it. And that’s just from common levels of glyphosate in drinking water, not the amount of Roundup in the water available to bees on farms.

Watch your consumption of Roundup

In 2013 under pressure from farmers who cannot control weeds due to overuse of Roundup and the resistance of the weeds (becoming “superweeds”), the FDA raised the limits. Fruits can have concentrations from 200 ppb to 500 ppb glyphosate. Animal feed, such as hay, is allowed up to 100,000 ppb glyphosate; oilseed crops can contain up to 40,000 ppb; potatoes can contain 6,000 ppb glyphosate. It is not known how much Roundup is in the animal products that eat so much Roundup in their feed, but the animals have abnormal mineral composition and are often sick with disgestive and reproductive problems. Some scientists conclude that the levels of intake of glyphosate now common in the typical American diet are carcinogenic.

There is also Roundup in water.  EPA standards for maximum amount of glyphosate in water is 0.7ppm (700 ppb) even though there has been evidence of organ damage in animals and lung congestion in humans at 0.1ppb. FDA admits that long-term exposure at such high levels (700 times greater than the maximum limit) can cause kidney and fertility damage. The glyphosate in the food given to animals is extremely high because 85% of those crops are genetically engineered to tolerate Roundup sprays. As described at the start, the poison is taken up by the plant with the help of added surfactant ingredients in the commercial product.

EPA will review Roundup risk in 2015—meanwhile GE food needs to be labeled and young adults need more education about how to avoid eating GMOs

These findings of DNA damage and links to cancers, miscarriages, liver, endocrine disruption, and mortality to amphibians have been reported to the US EPA and the European Food Safety Authority. Roundup is coming up for its next 15 year review by the EPA in 2015 when lower-level scientists say they expect it to be banned. It should have been banned when the first questions were raised, and certainly now since it is present in greater and greater amounts in food.

Most of the GMO food is Roundup Ready and the biotechnology industry is lobbying for approval of food that will tolerate both Roundup and 2,4-D, a relative of Agent Orange defoliant. It is more urgent than ever that GMO food be labeled so people have a better chance of reducing the amount of Roundup in their diets. Long-term toxic exposure to Roundup is a major health risk and people in their twenties have been exposed their whole lives and it will keep getting worse, especially for people who eat large amounts of processed corn and tortillas where the amount of Roundup is certainly toxic through long-term exposure.

Don Huber observes that if you count up the number of fertility clinics in a community now compared to 15 years ago, you know that something is affecting fertility.  TIME Magazine reported that general fertility rate in the U.S. in 2011 was the lowest ever recorded; the birth rate for teenagers ages 15 to 19 declined; birth rates for women ages 20 to 24 hit a record low; and rates for Hispanic and non-Hispanic black women dipped. Only women ages 35 to 39 and 40 to 44 are more likely to have babies now than in the past.  Those women have not been exposed to genetically engineered food for such a large part of their lives and during their formative years. Infertility and birth defects in lab animals and livestock fed GMOs and Roundup are likely to manifest similarly in humans.  Mothers and their pediatricians who take their children off of GMOs are sharing their testimonials to the health benefits.

The evidence is clear that genetically engineering of food adds health risks regardless of the trait inserted into the genome, but with the prevalence of the Roundup Ready gene and Roundup in the food supply, it makes sense to call your elected officials to ask for mandatory, reliable labeling of genetically engineered food just in order to be better able to avoid consuming so much Roundup in the GMO soy and corn.

By Jan Dietrick, MPH – Feb 2014



Wake Up Before It Is Too Late – Jan’s Synopsis

In September 2013 the United Nations Convention on Trade and Environment published one of its periodic reviews and called it: Wake Up Before It Is Too Late—Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate. 

Wake Up Before It Is Too Late UNCTAD 2013.

UNCTAD Review 2013

As I began to read this 341 page global review of the status of trade and the environment , the California State Grange convention was coming up, and some members were preparing legislative policy resolutions related to sustainable agriculture.  As I read about the global view on policy related to food security, it became more clear that this is not just for our communities, but for all communities.

Each of the five chapters has ideas for policy recommendations to mitigate projected mass famine, especially in the developing world. With the increasing climate-related disasters in the US and depleted stores of food, the focus and urgency of this report seems worthy of  continued study and dialog. My vision is a review of  California Grange legislative policy so that it “seeks a viable agricultural program that safeguards the family farm as the most economical way to furnish all families with wholesome, affordable food and fiber”.

Whether we are producing or consuming, we want local, state and federal policies that do not contribute to food insecurity in the developing world. And, our policies should be consistent with what we know about sequestering rather than releasing carbon. That is what Wake Up Before It Is Too Late is about. 

My synopsis is made up mostly of phrases verbatim [except in places where I added a comment or update in brackets]. I did not try to footnote or reference to the source pages in the review. It is all in the book available for download. One of the larger themes of Wake Up Before It Is Too Late is that GHG emissions from agriculture in developing countries are significant and increasing instead of decreasing. 

The introductory chapter calls for a fundamental transformation of agriculture followed by four more chapters looking at livestock production, research/technology/extension, land use, and international trade. It seems very comprehensive.

Each chapter opens with evidence of problems followed major recommendations. These introductions are followed by commentaries written singly or in groups by around 50 agricultural scientists from around the world giving detailed data and insights from their specialties. Among them are friends and leaders we greatly admire, including  Marcia Ishii-Eitmann with Pesticide Action Network, Miguel Altieri at UC Berkeley (an expert on sustainable agriculture in Cuba), molecular geneticist Mae-Wan Ho with Institute of Science in Society, the venerable entomologist and ecologist David Pimentel at Cornell University, and researchers at Institute of Organic Agriculture.

The theme I take away is that energy scarcity and climate disruption require more resilient systems and the window is closing to prevent the worst case scenarios from drought and famine.

Chapter 1: Key Development Challenges of a Fundamental Transformation of Agriculture The introduction and first chapter open with a summary of the policy recommendations in the Review, mainly explaining the guiding principle that sustainable agriculture is biologically and ecologically based with a focus on increasing carbon in the root zones of cultivated plants. The required transformation of agriculture in developing countries will (1) reduce the impact from conventional agriculture, and (2) broaden the scope and further develop the following agro-ecological production objectives:

  • Increase soil carbon content.
  • Close nutrient cycles in an integrated approach to production.
  • Reduce GHG emissions from livestock production (ways to do that are covered in Chapter 2).
  • Manage the forests, peatland and grassland sustainably to reduce land-use induced emissions.
  • Optimize organic and inorganic fertilizer use for greatest efficiency in closed nutrient cycles.
  • Reduce waste throughout food chains.
  • Change dietary patterns towards climate-friendly food consumption.
  • Reform trade policies for food and ag products.

[Jan note: With regard to this last issue about trade, there is an urgent need to protect the livelihoods of small farmers in developing countries against policies that result in dumping by large US industrial producers. This is the opposite of the policies of the past 20 years that are the heart and soul of NAFTA, CAFTA,  and the push to enact TAFTA and the TPP, which are promoted by the California Farm Bureau. Chapter 5 expands on this topic with vital information about how our tax dollars promote injustice to farmers in other lands.]

Some paradigm shift has begun to accommodate the above objectives. However, the following agenda items  require a big paradigm shift and a much greater sense of urgency to make drastic changes:

  • Reduce fuel-intensive, external input-dependent production methods towards agroecological practices, recognizing that agriculture is multi-functional—it’s not just about quantity of food produced.
  • Discourage industrial livestock production and associated massive use of concentrate feed. [ Jan note: 85% of animal feed crops are GMO herbicide tolerant and do not sequester carbon like organic methods do. What is the impact of drenching soils with herbicides and  trans-species effects of GE in the foodweb?]
  • Discourage expansion of biofuel production:  discontinue blending quotas, reduce subsidies, revise trade restrictions.
  • Reduce financial speculation in food markets.
  • Limit irresponsible land investments.
  • Reform global agriculture trade rules, giving greater policy space for assuring national food sovereignty, climate-change adaptation/resilience, rethink the old paradigm with the focus on integrating smallholders into global supply chains.
  • Reduce food price volatility, without betting exclusively on hedging options.

Prevailing views must shift as follows:

  • The goal is not to just produce more with less, but that integrated agricultural systems meet the various functions that it contributes as the cornerstone of local economies.
  • The goal is not to just pollute a little less, but to adopt more sustainable, affordable methods.
  • Hunger is not about a lack of food, but a lack of access to affordable food in rural areas, a lack of means of production, and a lack of access to resources for smallholders.
  • Climate change is no joke; it is going to affect agriculture in catastrophic ways very soon.

Chapter 2.  Livestock Production: A Climate Change and Food Security Hot Spot Besides the recommendations in Chapter 1 related to livestock production, this chapter has commentary about  animal-friendly farming by such approaches as consumer and youth education to encourage a reduction in the consumption of “cheap meat” in favor of animal-friendly and environmentally friendly animal products.

Chapter 3.  The Role of Research and Technology and Extension Services The fundamental basis of every community is agriculture or tillage of the soil. The services of farmers exceed all other members of the community in importance. Farmers must make enough income to meet all of their reasonable expenses.  These are pivotal principles that the UNCTAD 2013 review drives home. The report advocates the following to researchers, farm advisors and regulatory agencies:

  • Articulate farmers’ needs based on problem diagnosis and foresight exercises related to climate change, promote the creation of networks and linkages for all of the stakeholders to work together to achieve mutual understanding and appropriate adaptive innovation on the farm level and at regional, national and sectoral levels.
  • Research and extend a combination of indigenous or traditional knowledge systems with modern knowledge and technology systems through knowledge sharing among scientists and pastoralists to interpret the probabilistic climate information and generate ‘best-bet’ on-farm practices from season to season.
  • Design aid programs and domestic rural development programs to rehabilitate degraded farmland through biological nitrogen fixation with legumes and complex perennial vegetation that yields innovative marketable products while assuring more resilient food production capacity in the future.
  • Cease the export of genetically engineered seed from developed to undeveloped and underdeveloped countries.

Chapter 4. The Role of Changes in Land Use The major recommendations to promote food security through land use policy are as follows:

  • Governments should guarantee land tenure with the support of the international community to improve market access, develop gender equity, raise farm size and productivity for moderate mechanization even in small-scale farming, reverse land degradation, remove subsidies in developed countries and transition economies to remove price distortions.
  • Governments must internalize transaction costs through global taxation on fossil fuels. [Jan note: I am working with Citizens Climate Lobby to persuade Congress to pass a revenue-neutral carbon tax with dividend to make America a global leader in putting a fair price on carbon].
  • Governments must regulate the ballooning scourge of land grabbing that risks the permanent loss of resources to future generations.

Chapter 5 – The Importance of International Trade and Trade Rules for Transforming Global Agriculture Recommendations are grouped under these six headings:  fair trade, market structure, food security, local and just economies, a level playing field for organic, and food sovereignty.

1. Demand Fair Trade Rules that Protect Smallholder Farmers The report advocates to the US federal government that in its Trade Agreements and in its input to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and regional development banks, as well as to the World Trade Organization and in the negotiation of Free Trade Agreements [including TPP, TAFTA, and other bilateral FTAs entered into by the US], that a  high priority be put on protecting farmers’ livelihood and food security in developing countries, by these policies:

  • Stop making loan conditions that force developing countries to liberalize their trade beyond their coping capacity in ways that damage livelihoods and incomes of rural producers or hold back development.
  • Allow and defend the right of developing countries to make full use of applied import tariffs to shield their producers from competition from industrialized countries.
  • Assure implementation of the two new proposed instruments – Special Products (SP) and Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) —  that enable developing countries to protect their smallholder farmers from import surges.
  • Invest tariff revenues in rural development and infrastructure to benefit farmers and other net trade losers, that help the transition from conventional to sustainable agriculture.
  • Eliminate export subsidies in developing countries.
  • Require that developed countries make effective deep reductions in domestic support for agricultural exports, including in actual overall trade distorting support (OTDS),  and by minimizing loopholes and “box shifting” to take advantage of “Green Box Subsidies” that in actuality distort prices.
  • Allow developing countries to apply domestic subsidies to support farmers’ livelihoods and food security, including low-cost credit, assistance with inputs, storage facilities, road and transport infrastructure, extension services, marketing support, and support for value-added processing of agricultural products.

2. Balance the Global Market Structure for Agricultural Products This section advocates for national and international rules regulating activities of commodity buyers, processors and retailers in the global food supply chain. The aim is to loosen the hold of large agribusinesses over markets and assure access to markets for smallholder farmers, particularly women farmers, in the following ways:

  • Enact and/or enforce competition law with systems that are sensitive to excessive and abusive buyer power/domination positions in supply chains.
  • Ensure that affected suppliers can lodge complaints without fear of reprisal by dominant buyers.
  • Promote and support the establishment of international antitrust measures to break up monopolies and global price-fixing cartels with an international mechanism to investigate and monitor concentration in the agrifood sector.
  • Support investigations into the behavior of international corporations engaged in agricultural trading and food retailing, especially their impacts on farmers, farm workers, consumer and vulnerable populations.
  • Expand the choices of smallholders to sell their products on local or global markets at a decent price by strengthening local and national markets.
  • Support diversified channels of trading and distribution.
  • Support farmers’ cooperatives and other producer organizations.
  • Establish or defend flexible and efficient producer marketing boards under government authority but with strong participation of producers in their governance.
  • Use the public procurement system to support small farmers.
  • Promote and scale up fair trade systems, including through access to productive resources, infrastructure and technical assistance.
  • Promote more understanding and advocacy to achieve equal access to markets by women.
  • Assure that priorities of research and assistance serve the values, needs, knowledge and concerns of farmers and other citizens and not support powerful commercial interests, such as multinational seed companies and food retailing companies.

3. Incorporate Food Security into Global Trade Policies This section suggests trade policies that favor sustainable ecological agriculture practices on all available land in all regions around the world. Land  in diverse production patterns that respect the environment and contribute to local food security with preeminently local food complemented by traded goods. To do this:

  • Make trade agreements include mechanisms to internalize especially transport costs, such as a carbon tax and the inclusion of air traffic in emissions trading schemes, and favor local food over traded goods.
  • Prioritize local foods complemented (not replaced) by traded goods, respecting “buy local”.
  • Focus exports on specialties (where the value added is higher) and on surplus produce.
  • Establish sustainable agriculture process and production standards, including standard monitoring and verification schemes supported by low-interest loans that can be offered by communities, national governments or international donors. [Jan note:  The Leonardo Academy is accepting comments on its draft Sustainable Agriculture Standard LEO4000 through March 6, 2014. It could be useful here.]
  • Establish farmers’ training and field schools to catalyze and vertically and horizontally integrate learning about sustainable farming practices into the community and generate local ownership of the process.
  • Eliminate perverse subsidies and incentives that promote and encourage the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, water and fuel or encourage land degradation and their replacement with regulation of inputs to protect the environment and human health.
  • Redirect agricultural subsidies to encourage the transition to diversified crop production for long-term soil health and to improve environmental impacts.
  • Assure access for smallholder farmers, particularly women farmers, to productive resources towards investment in and adoption of ecological agricultural approaches.
  • Support communications that provide better information to the public to promote a shift in eating habits towards more sustainable and locally produced foods.

4. Promote Organic Trade Policies are needed that increase organic markets, boost trade in organic products and reduce transaction costs for organic by the following measures:

  • Reduce technical barriers to trade in organic agricultural products through harmonization and equivalency of organic standards and conformity assessment systems to assure the standard is being followed.
  • Facilitate trade in organic foods originating from developing countries by increasing farmer awareness of benefits of organic food production and trading opportunities, through research, development and training, by identifying marketing strategies and partnerships, by providing financial support, and by promoting farmers’ associations and NGOs.
  • Facilitate imports of organic foods from developing countries to developed countries through training farmers about organic standards, regulations and market opportunities and by simplifying requirements and procedures for importing products.
  • Change the underlying incentive structures so that negative externalities are duly reflected in the prices of all agricultural products in order to level the playing field with organic and fair trade products.

5. Foster Local, Just Food Economies Make policies that empower smallholders and respect the sovereign rights of communities to democratically determine their own agricultural and food policies while preventing excessive agribusiness power concentration and domination by these measures:

  • Implement a moratorium on mergers and acquisitions to curb trade practices that breed oligopolies and inhibit competition.
  • Reform national farm policy to eliminate dumping, encourage environmental sustainability, and prevent oligopolistic control of market prices and practices.
  • Eliminate subsidies for fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Tax toxic inputs to accelerate the transiton towards biological farming practices that cultivate on-farm nutrient cycles.
  • Eliminate promotion of GE seed and chemical inputs as conditions for crop insurance and production loans.
  • Keep financial investors out of commodity markets where they virtually or physically hoard commodity stocks for mere speculation and profiteering.
  • Eliminate speculation in commodity markets with commodity-specific position limits and increased transparency in over-the-counter trading.
  • Support the establishment of food reserves as a tool to mitigate price and supply volatility and strengthen food security when domestic production fails.
  • Invest in agro-ecological farming practices to strengthen food security and resilience to climate disruption, focused on supporting small-scale farmers and particularly women.

6. Local, Regional and National Food Sovereignty A food sovereignty paradigm that balances with a liberal market will:

  • Recognize and ensure the right of every person to adequate food.
  • Recognize and ensure the right of farmers to agricultural genetic resources as an essential component of promoting the right to food.
  • Educate the public about the right to food sovereignty and implied land reforms, market protection, biodiversity, autonomy from outside pressures, and cooperation.
  • The beginning outreach will help communities take center stage and spread from the local level to effective regional and national food sovereignty.




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